Friday, 24 May 2013

Something's Missing All Right...

I really have problems understanding how the minds of collectors of dugup antiquities work. Try as I might, it just does not add up. Take the recent discussion about the "repatriation" of some smuggled Bulgarian coins seized at the US border. It seems like a clear cut case of wrongdoing. The importer however gets away without any charges (or even being named and shamed), but loses 546 coins which go back to the place they were smuggled from. One would have thought that normal people would be condemning those behind this dodgy deal. But collectors and their lobbyists seem not to fall easily into the category of what most of us would regard as 'normal people'. So upon me publishing two texts on the topic of this seizure and its aftermath (here and here) one of these people decides to add a comment.

Notable is that it went to my second text on the topic "What if....?" which poses the question of the relationship of the seized and returned coins to smuggled coins that slip through the net of ICE 'vigilance' at US borders and thus find their way onto the US market. I suppose if one is a lobbyist for such dealers' interest groups as the PNG, IAPN and ACCG, one cannot ignore the fact that this issue was raised. Since however the lobbyist cannot answer the question, nor can they admit that they cannot answer it, a possible way out may seem to deflect attention from the question and the fundamental issue it raises about the way the industry is run. Thus it is that we get an attempt to deflect the discussion onto a second topic. Note that this is another of the dugup antiquity sellers' "two wrongs make a right' argument. So it is that Peter Tompa adds his two wooden cents (sent last night):
The real question for ICE and you for that matter is [...] what differentiates these coins from the hundreds of thousands if not millions openly available for sale in Bulgaria itself? 
He then goes on to suggest that collecting ancient artefacts is not illegal in Bulgaria. What differentiates them is of course that the coins collected by Bulgarian collectors are in Bulgaria, while any coins that are smuggled to the US market have been removed from Bulgaria illegally. Mr Tompa is trying to confuse the argument with a comparison of chalk with cheese.

The 1970 UNESCO Convention has a long, but through that pretty comprehensive, title which states that it concerns: the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. It does not concern collecting at all, but in its articles 1 and 2 allows states parties to regulate that as it wishes, the convention concerns the movement of cultural property, such as dugup archaeological artefacts between countries. That is its purpose, that is its ONLY purpose. The American lawmakers who back in Reagan's day tried to put a good face on the US 'art' market could not get their heads around that and took it to mean that it was a Convention to "prevent pillage" of archaeological sites. Anyone who reads its text will discover that it is not. Check it out. This mistake however has persisted among US collectors of and dealers in dugup artefacts and their lobbyists, who apparently cannot read the document itself with any understanding.

What is notable about Tompa's reply is that he raised exactly the same question two days earlier, and I thought I had explained where he was muddling the argument. That concerned what seems to be a large number of coins bought during his period of service abroad by a top US official in Aghanistan which then mysteriously appeared in the US upon his return (and in fact are still circulating in the trade there last time I looked). There Tompa wrote, just yesterday:
These were openly available for sale at the time. If that is no longer the case, its because the Taliban chased the antiquties and coin dealers away to Pakistan, and since, the American Archaeologists moved in with the US Military and they have told the natives keeping and selling what they find is a no no.
Leaving aside the last two red herring points, we see here the same mixing of ideas. I was talking about Spengler removing coins from the source country, the lobbyist tries to defect the argument away from the issue of export and suggests that buying the coins within the country was not illegal. Be that as it may, these are two different issues, as I pointed out in my succinct reply yesterday:
do you not see a difference between buying something IN a country and taking it OUT? I have several cats quite legally acquired in the Republic of Poland, but if I wanted to take them to the UK there are procedures to go through. Same with my car. Two different things.
Does it really need explaining in any more detail to a self-styled "Cultural Property Observer"? Obviously it does, because with a singular lack of observation and single-minded stubborness, the same lobbyist was making the self-same cognitive error in his comments on the "What if ..." post quoted above. The lawyer then posts a similar text to his blog "Something's Missing from the Discussion About the Repatriation of Some Ancient Coins to Bulgaria" (CPO, Friday, May 24, 2013)

there is no allegation the coins in question were "stolen" from Bulgaria.  Indeed, that would be a difficult case to make given Bulgaria's open and legal trade in the exact same items.
He then gives a link to one of his own posts about the need to regulate metal detecting in Bulgaria and Cyprus (for example by introducing a Portable Antiquities Scheme clone there) which he calls: "Archaeological Blather Obscures Rational Approaches to Metal Detectors". The only blather is Tompa's own narrow-minded and wholly mistaken approach, and there is no better illustration of the latter's intellectual resistance to the truth of what the 1970 UNESCO covers and propensity to argue chalk is cheese than my reply to that post: "I Will publish no More From You" (posted on Thursday, 29 March 2012, so well over a year he's had to think over the issue). It seems collection of dugup ancient coins is the domain of the slow learners and those challenged by the task of reading black-and-white documents.

Yes, "something is missing" all right, and that is the lack of any spokespeople for the dugup antiquities market with whom one can have a normal, focussed and civilised conversation based in the facts, without the constant dismissive glibness and subject-changing  which characterises their side of this painful dialogue of the deaf. If they really have nothing else to say, it seems any calls from outside for dialogue are misplaced, and we should go on without their participation to find ways to deal with their secretive and irresponsibly carefree business practices which are fostering an erosive and damaging clandestine market in illicitly obtained and smuggled artefacts.



Cultural Property Observer said...

The UNESCO Convention allows nations to list artifacts of special importance as cultural property, but I'm not aware Bulgaria has done so with respect to coins and in any event that would be inconsistent with the extensive, open legal market in such material.

The UNESCO Convetion Art. 6 also suggests that State Parties should issue export certificates. Please cite to me the regulations that Bulgaria has issued in that regard.

The UNESCO Convention is also not self-executing. The US has decided to exercise its "independent judgment" in such matters through the Cultural Property Implementation Act. Bulgaria has petitioned the US Government to impose import restrictions under that statute on its behalf, but no decision has yet been made.

In short, you cite UNESCO as gospel, but it does not apply fully. Nor do you seem to understand how it operates in practice or how it interacts with US legislation.

Paul Barford said...

My, what a lot of questions the great cultural property lawyer from Washington has for a simple east European archaeologist.

Ancient coins come under Art. 6.1 and 7.1-3 of the current antiquities law (ЗАКОН за културното наследство, as updated October 2012). There is an exemption for milled coins (Art. 7.4(1)), but not ancient coins.

Export licences are issued in accordance with articles 128-131 of the above-mentioned act.

A UNESCO convention is not an act of law, so of course it is not "self-executing". We are well aware of the CCPIA. I mentioned it did I not?

Now, where do I "cite UNESCO [1970 Convention] as gospel"? I do no such thing. You asked what differentiates them, I told you. Now, instead of taking that on board, you want (again) to add another topic.

Your whole comment bears absolutely no relation to what I said.

As I said the problem is one of focus here. You seem unable to focus.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Bottom line which is the point of the post on my blog which was the starting point of your tirade-- The US applies its own law not UNESCO or Bulgarian export controls. These coins do not meet the definition of stolen property under US law and they were not seized on that basis. The US will only honor Bulgarian export controls if a MOU with Bulgaria is approved and import restrictions that mirror Bulgarian export controls are promulgated. I'm afraid you are the one that does not "get it."

Paul Barford said...


1) it seems like you accepted what I said about the Bulgaria regulations, a "thank you" might have been in order that I looked up for you what you could not be bothered to check yourself in trying to deflect discussion and waste everybody's time.

2) You have of course NOT indicated where I "cite UNESCO (sic) as gospel". Skipped across that one too.

3) The "bottom line" is that you all the time are skipping the issue addressed in my post. The post is about the difference between what you say the 1970 UNESCO Convention is about and what it actually covers (whether or not the US in all its hypocrisy applies it [art. 3] properly, despite being a state party). Your coiney readers might be befuddled by your misleading them and telling them chalk is cheese. I fully expect you to continue telling them that it is, and have no illusions that the many dullards among them will happily accept it rather than checking it out themselves. But then that is wholly revealing of exactly the point I made at the end, we really should be talking not WITH these people but what to do ABOUT them.

Did you really mean to say: "The US will only honor Bulgarian export controls if a MOU with Bulgaria is approved". Then I suggest again it is time for the US to withdraw from the 1970 UNESCO Convention which it has no intention of honouring. Stop the hypocrisy, do not pretend you are what you are not.

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